The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was established by Congress in 1964 to fulfill a bipartisan commitment to safeguard natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans. The fund helps strengthen communities, preserve history and protect the national endowment of lands and waters. Since its inception, the LWCF has funded $4 billion worth of projects in every county in the country.
On August 4, 2020, the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) was signed into law, authorizing $900 million annually in permanent funding for LWCF. Prior to the passage of GAOA, funding for LWCF relied on annual congressional appropriations.
At no cost to taxpayers, the LWCF supports increased public access to and protection for federal public lands and waters — including national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and recreation areas — and provides matching grants to state governments for the acquisition and development of public parks and other outdoor recreation sites. Agencies also partner with landowners to support voluntary conservation activities on private lands.
Some of the funds are distributed directly to states and local communities through grant programs. Tribes can work with states through the grant programs to secure LWCF funding for recreation and conservation projects. These grants can be used for a range of projects from establishing baseball fields and community green spaces; to providing public access to rivers, lakes and other water resources; to protecting historic and cultural sites; and conserving natural landscapes.
The Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) grant program, established in 2014 and funded by the LWCF, enables urban communities to create new outdoor recreation spaces, reinvigorate existing parks, and form connections between people and the outdoors in economically underserved communities. This a nationally competitive grant program that delivers funding to urban areas — jurisdictions of at least 50,000 people — with priority given to projects located in economically disadvantaged areas and lacking in outdoor recreation opportunities.